By anonymous Pleasure Pie contributor
I’ve always been a very polyamorous person, long before I knew the word for it. I feel like I tend to be very open-hearted, and very trusting. When I was in high school, I participated in a group trust fall exercise, and was about a thousand times better at trust falling than anyone else in the group, to the point that I sometimes fell before my partner was even ready to catch me (they did catch me though).
About a year ago, I went on a date with a guy I didn’t know very well, and he raped me.
I was really surprised by what happened. I mean, he did seem like a sketchy guy, but I didn’t anticipate that he might hurt me in such a serious way. We had had conversations. He had looked me in the eye. My status as a fellow human being should have been apparent to him. Why would someone do that?
It made me question the way I view strangers in general. I had spent most of my life trying to assume kindness and trying to love everyone, unless I was given a whole lot of reasons not to (i.e. the person threatens to kill me or something). Now, this doesn’t mean that I liked everyone. But I did have some form of love for people as a whole.
In the year since my rape, I’ve been in a mostly monogamous relationship, until a month ago.
When that relationship ended, I was excited to be free to be polyamorous again. I’ve gone on two dates so far, and I’m finding that dating feels very different than it used to.
I’m finding that I’m afraid of men until they are proven to be trustworthy. I have been doing “background checks” by asking mutual friends about how safe it is to be alone with them. I can now see why many people are afraid of online dating, because you can’t ask a mutual friend to vouch for the people you go on dates with.
I’m also finding myself having confusing feelings about casual sex. Questions are coming up for me, like, “Is it really worth it to have sex with this person?”
Worth what? What am I losing to connect with this person sexually?
I’m also finding myself asking, “What’s the point of sex without love?”
The space between casual sex and a relationship isn’t usually acknowledged in our culture. It’s usually thought of as either completely casual, or a relationship. But it’s completely possible to experience sex, feelings, caring about the person – even if only for one night.
How this used to feel for me:
Sexuality was a way to connect with new people on an intimate level. I got to see their bedroom, their body, the way they interact with their own body, the way they touch and look at my body, how they express being turned on (like the noises they make, the things they say, the things they ask for, how they express feelings of pleasure, etc.), etc. And I never wondered if sex made sense without love because there was always an element of love: my general love for them as a fellow human being, regardless of how much I liked them or could relate to them or connect with them emotionally, intellectually, etc.
I want to learn to open up my heart again and love people in general, while still trying to do my best to protect myself from assault (i.e. by trusting my instincts when someone seems sketchy). It’s confusing for me to know to what extent I should heed my safety concerns, and to what extent they are a not-useful reaction to trauma. For now, I’m going to try to be careful with my safety, while still pushing past my emotional comfort zone when I do feel physically safe.
By anonymous Pleasure Pie contributor
I recently had sex with a new person, and it was really physically painful. I tried to pretend that it didn’t hurt that much, and we kept having sex until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
After it was over, I felt depressed. I realized that I have all of this emotional baggage around sex that was coming to the surface.
I didn’t want to talk about my emotional reaction with the guy I just had sex with, because we were hanging out to have a friendly, sexy time, not to share our deepest feelings and insecurities.
I want sexual freedom. I want to be sexual with whoever I choose (consensually, of course), regardless of whether we have a deep emotional connection.
But it’s awkward to stop sex in the middle of sex and not explain why. And if I explain why, I am likely to start crying. And I don’t always want to go there!
So I decided to write all the difficult feelings down so I can do my best to work through them.
Here is what my sexual baggage consists of right now:
• It’s often hard to experience physical sexual pleasure.
I try to relax and not overthink it, which works sometimes. I’ve been trying to “relax and not overthink it” for years now though, and it has not been a quick-fix type of solution. I have made progress over time though. Addressing the rest of my baggage also helps.
• I’m afraid of focusing on my pleasure during sex.
I’m afraid of indulging in my pleasure. I’m afraid of asking for things that might increase my pleasure. Plus, I don’t always know what those things are, and asking might make me more nervous, which makes it harder for me to experience sexual pleasure. I know it’s not true, but I feel like it is more appropriate and desirable and attractive for me to cater solely to my partner’s pleasure, rather than paying attention to my own pleasure. It makes me feel aggressive and unfeminine and needy to bring up my own pleasure.
• I’m worried that if I ask for things that would feel good for me, my sex partner will expect that I should orgasm.
And I’m worried that if it starts feeling really good for me, I will start wanting to orgasm, and if an orgasm doesn’t happen (which is likely for me) it could be frustrating.
• I am not worried about my body. It is hot! :)
• I’m worried that I won’t be “good” at sex.
I’m worried that I won’t please my partner, or that I’ll ruin the mood. I’m worried that I’ll be laughably awkward/uncoordinated, or that I won’t move enough/be engaged/engaging enough. On the flip side of that, I’m worried that I will take charge too much.
[This article is the antidote for this insecurity.]
• I’m worried that I don’t even know what sex is supposed to look like! I’m worried that I’m doing it wrong. I haven’t seen much video porn, and what I’ve seen hasn’t really spoken to me. I’m worried that my partner will have expectations of what sex is supposed to be/look like that come from watching porn, and that I won’t live up to them.
I wish sex felt more creative. Like it would be okay to color outside the lines – to re-envision what sex looks like/consists of, and to choose what the tone will be!
Like it could be,
and like we desperately need to touch each other
and like we’re 100% turned on all of the time
I worry that it could totally kill the mood/ruin everything/crush their self-esteem if I am honest about the fact that how turned on/into it I am can fluctuate (and that might not mean I want to stop).
• I’m afraid to say when sex hurts because it could kill the mood/the sexiness of it. And sometimes it hurts a lot. And it makes me feel freaked out and devalued to have someone continue forward with sex that is hurting me and pleasuring them. But they might not know it’s hurting me, or how much it’s hurting me, because I don’t tell them in a straightforward way; I just make gasping sounds that could potentially be interpreted as pleasure, and say things like, “Sorry, your penis is really big.” I think it’s really likely that someone would not realize how painful it is for me, even if they can tell that I’m experiencing some pain, they might assume that I am experiencing at least as much pleasure as pain.
My plan for this article is to match each insecurity with an antidote article that explains a more sex-positive way to think about it. If you know of any articles, stories, illustrations, quotes, etc. that would work for any of the insecurities above, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
By Nicole Mazzeo
For two months this winter, I took time off from Pleasure Pie projects to reflect and do some self care. I wanted to check in with myself and my community to make sure that my activism (by “activism,” I mean everything I do with Pleasure Pie, including zine making, having events, giving workshops, writing, etc.) is as effective as possible, and that it’s not unintentionally harmful in any way (and if it is, fix that).
I’ve been wrestling with questions like:
When is speaking from my own experience powerful and constructive, and when should I be centering the voices of others (especially people with marginalized experiences/identities that aren’t as prevalent in sex-positive communities)?
How can I tell when my activism is helpful for others, versus when it’s just healing for me (and possibly even harmful to others)? What if it’s helpful to some people, and harmful to others?
Is it realistic for me to hope to be paid for my work as a sex educator/community organizer, or does seeking payment inevitably get in the way of me doing the most constructive and authentic work I can?
My original plan for this break was that I would reflect on these questions, and reflect on some criticisms I’ve received from other activists, and once I figured out what I thought about all of it and how I wanted to move forward with Pleasure Pie, I would start doing activism again. But then two months went by and I was still looking for answers. I started to think that I might not be able to figure it out in a month, or maybe even a year. These might be the kind of questions that I have to feel out and continually reflect on as I try to do my best activism in the meantime. It might be an ongoing, lifelong process. But I think I have something valuable to offer the world (my take on sexuality and oppression, my own experiences and ideas, etc.), and it would be a shame to put that on hold indefinitely until I have stuff all figured out.
Which brings me to my next question:
To what extent do I need to have the answers to these questions figured out for it to be responsible for me to do activism that can affect other people (especially events, which so directly affect the people who are there)?
I don’t have a concrete answer for that one either, but I’ve come up with a few questions that I think can be helpful in feeling it out: Do I know what I’m doing, and understand the topic/issue enough, to do right by it? If not, is there someone who does that would want to collaborate on this? Is there a way that this project could negatively affect the people involved (i.e. the participants if it’s an event, or the readers if it’s a zine, etc.)? What might happen that could be bad? How can I prevent that from happening?
In addition to those questions, it’s always really important to me to seek out and listen to other people’s perspectives, especially people who have all sorts of different identities than me, so that I’m not coming up with ideas and making decisions in a like-minded, like-experienced bubble.
My approach to activism is a work in progress. If you have any thoughts you want to add, or ways of addressing these questions (or other relevant questions) that you recommend, please feel free to comment here or email me at email@example.com. Thanks! :)
By anonymous Pleasure Pie contributor
I had a dream last night that I was raped by a neighbor when I visited his house. In the dream I was fifteen years old and he was in his late 30s or early 40s.
When I was reflecting on the dream this morning, what struck me about it was how I reacted to the rape in the dream. I was unsurprised. I felt broken, but it felt normal to feel that way. I felt like I was used to being raped all the time.
This got me thinking about how I felt when I was raped in real life. It didn’t feel that strange or unusual, though I had never been raped before. I think I’d had an image in my mind of what being raped would be like, and it was much more violent and out-of-the-blue than what actually happened.
What actually happened was that I went on a date with a cute guy and agreed to sleep at his one room apartment. I was really clear with him that I just wanted to cuddle when he asked me to come over. When we got to his room, he wanted to have sex. I said no, and he didn’t listen to me. We had sex and I was pleading with him to stop the whole time. I didn’t try to push him off of me, and he didn’t physically hurt me. He didn’t use a condom. He stopped when he came.
It took me a couple of days to call what happened rape. I think this was mainly because “rape” sounded like a huge deal, and I thought it would be unlike anything I had ever experienced before. But my rape didn’t feel so unfamiliar. I had been touched without consent many times before (sometimes sexually, sometimes not). This was just a more intrusive version of the non-consensual touching I was familiar with.
You know what this makes me think of? Rape culture. To grow up in a world where being raped doesn’t feel so out of the ordinary because multiple men in my life have touched me without my consent – that’s messed up.
And it doesn’t have to be this way. Kids should grow up hearing, “Only have sex with people who want to have sex with you,” not, “Women who respect themselves don’t dress like that, and you have to respect yourself first if you want guys to respect you” or any of the other harmful messages prevalent in our culture about sex and consent.
I usually avoid using the phrase rape culture because it is pretty controversial, and it seems to pit people against each other. Some people are adamant that it is an accurate way of describing our current society where rape is a big issue that affects a lot of people, and where people often don’t get very good support after being raped, while other people are adamant that our culture is anti-rape and offended by the idea that the general population is being described as condoning rape. So I often prefer to talk about how rape is an issue in our culture (and in my personal experience) without using the phrase “rape culture” because I don’t want people to write off what I’m saying because of that one phrase.
But sometimes it just feels so accurate.